Last week I bought a new dress.
It took me a long time to make up my mind to buy it. It’s not my usual thing. It’s red and fitted – no, downright snug – and cut alarmingly low in the front. It’s sophisticated and sexy. The fabric has just enough give that it’s comfortable, not confining, and I loved it from the moment I put it on.
Still I hesitated. I stared at myself in the mirror, turning to see myself from every angle. Every curve, every panty line. When I finally peeled it off, I forced myself to take a deep breath and bring it to the counter. Three days later I’m still wavering about whether I will have the guts to wear it when I get up on stage next month to speak in front of hundreds of people.
A friend accused me gently of having body image issues. I didn’t know how to respond without sounding defensive. The thing is, I don’t have body image issues. I like the way I look. I’m not perfect but I have killer legs from biking and plenty of honest curves elsewhere. I like the way this dress looks. It shows off the best parts of me. I look like Mad Men’s Joan Holloway in this dress. I feel absolutely fabulous in it.
I don’t have body image issues; I have confidence issues. This is a dress that says, “Look at me.” Eyes will be on me, and that’s scary. Not because of how I look, but because of how I’m afraid people will see me.
She’s trying too hard.
What was she thinking?
What were they thinking?
Next month I’m going to be up on a stage reading a thing I wrote. A thing I’m pretty proud of. And I want people to know I’m proud of it. I want the woman at the center of it to elbow her neighbors and say, “Hey, that’s my wife up there” because she knows best of anyone how hard it is for me to put myself out there. It’s not my usual thing, this dress or this attitude.
A woman I met in the park one day asked me if I was a writer. She’d seen my yellow satchel printed with a Ray Bradbury quote about writing.
“I like to write,” I hedged. It was a cop-out, I admit, and one of my favorites. I use it all the time.
This dress won’t let me cop out.
This is not a dress for fading into the background. For self-deprecation. For claiming not to be a writer. When I’m making the rounds and talking to strangers, when they ask me what I do, what I’m all about, this dress won’t let me shrug and glance down at my feet and mumble something about luck and hobbies and I-dunno-really. People are going to ask about my blog. They’re going to expect things, whatever I’m wearing. I want to deliver.
I do have a backup dress. It’s lovely. It’s sweet and feminine and it makes me feel young and pretty. It doesn’t make me feel kick-ass fabulous, though. My new dress won’t let me defer. It won’t let me be mansplained to. This dress won’t let me second-guess myself. There’s no room for it – literally and figuratively. I mean, it’s so snug, where would I hide a first guess, let alone a second one?
All right. I bought the dress; now I just need to own it.